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Live Free, Play Hard: The Week's Best Free Indie Games

Monsters, shrines, shops, and.J.C. Denton

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Vintage spider carnage. Extra gust. Real time castaway simulator. That’s one way to get a leg up in life. Fruit powered women of battle. Video game museum.
Sitting here psychically begging the game makers of the world to make something that will run on this ancient borrowed laptop that I have to use until my plane takes me home and I’m back with my sleek desktop that doesn’t stand on the edge of rooftops weeping whenever I ask it to run something made after the stone age. Yes, they had computers back then. They weren’t very good.

Okay, how about this one.

Black Widow by Tardis Remakes

Black Widow! Remake of the Atari arcade game by the same name! What an exciting idea, being a spider, defending your pulsating neon web from invading insects and taking their money! Whoop!

As you progress, strands of your web turn red, turning them into one-way walls that make it easy to get stuck in the middle. Staying away from the increasingly claustrophobic center means you’re closer to spawning enemies, which in turn tempts a panicked retreat back inside the red strands, a deadly dilemma that must have swallowed up many quarters if the ancient tales of games powered by metal circles are true.

Survival isn’t as simple as killing everything, there’s a bit of thought involved–you have to push invulnerable eggs off the edge before they hatch into hornets, Spoilers can only be destroyed by nearby explosions, the Bug Slayer is harmless but competes with you for kills (so you risk not having enough points for extra lives), and Thunderbugs have the potential to set off nearby Thunderbugs to the point where the blast radius sweeps most of the web.

Second Wind by squidly

Highly linear RPG that condenses the dungeon crawler format into a series of interesting decisions. You have twenty classes, many unlocked through various means, like reaching a certain area or playing a flute guarded by newts, and then a bunch of random encounters like monsters, shrines, shops, and…J.C. Denton?

Second Wind isn’t completely arbitrary. I have no idea whether hugging the Dungeon Wanderer will make him happy or angry this time around, what kind of skill check is hugging, but the treasure chests that quiz you on dungeon trivia reward you for paying attention to flavor, and each class, while simple, has its own strategy to consider and seem pretty diverse. If you die, you have an extra life, the titular second wind. Beyond that, you’d better stock up on potions.

The descriptions are playful, with creatures like the Avant-Garde Clay or the Harmless Lichen (“It’s immobile, yet you cannot escape it.”) where the combat text wonders why you’re killing such an innocent creature and oh its attacks are nothing really. This isn’t a particularly deep game, but it’s a fun kind of shallow, which is exactly what it’s trying to be.

Adrift by Tyen

Adrift in a boat on the open sea in real time. Play this in the middle of the night and you’re sailing under a starry sky, get up at dawn and catch the sunrise. There isn’t much beyond sky, weather, and possibly sinking, but it’s a nice place to relax.

Insane Balancing on One Leg in Extreme Places! by Nik Sudan

Just in case Insane Balancing on One Leg in Extreme Places! was too ambiguous a title, this is about balancing on one leg on top of skyscrapers and rocket ships while birds and space junk hurtle at you and the world rocks on its axis. Against this you have the ability to lean right, left, and jump, with little margin for error.

For example, jumping to avoid obstacles tends to land you on the edge of your chosen precipice, which means you have to jump at the proper angle to get back in the center again so you have room to do your next jump–and that’s usually when an asteroid decides to show up on your downward descent. I like the way clouds dart and the sun spins as if nature itself was conspiring to destroy you. I’m at 119 points on the spaceship level and feeling kind of addicted.

Super Jump by HendrixGames

Prolong your Super Jump as long as possible in this test of vertical endurance and possible metaphor for how some people view capitalism. Stars give huge boosts, the main way of staying aloft, while coins give little spurts, useful for planning your ascent through the cleverly designed heights.

Makes me feel that primal urge to keep moving, to avoid dreaded inertia, the thing where we say nonononononono and mash the keyboard even though nothing can stop the fall but we say it anyways, like being in a dream where you can fly as long as you think the right thoughts.

Princess Fantasy Catventure by NICKtendo DS

In Princess Fantasy Catventure you play a cat-eared battle princess who gains power from fruit, which besides being my dream career involves standing on the left side of the screen fighting off waves of enemies with your projectiles and the help of an assistant armed with a unique projectile attack of their own. Catch the fruit bouncing across the screen to unleash combos based on the fruit color–faster attacks, trigger your ally’s special power, and so on.

The cartoonish art is really fun and I especially like the way health is represented by detailed reduction of peaches, right down to the pit. Don’t be deceived by cuteness, though, this game is hard, and I had to conserve health and time my jumps very precisely just to beat the first level. The enemies have a lot of variety and your shot charges up after a period of not firing, refining the experience to get the most out of your limited mobility and ensure that you’re doing a good mix of jumping and shooting.

The battles are reached from a world map where you can detour for bonus missions and switch up your assistant after you unlock them by beating their home territory. So far I’ve got a monkey who flings bananas and some kind of fire-belching lizard, and I’m expecting that choosing the right assistant for each level will be useful.

The Modeleum by ratking

Presenting the Modeleum, a virtual museum to which anyone can submit 3D models in OBJ format, exhibit halls swelling to accommodate new entries. There’s this nice effect where looking at an object brings it into focus and blurs the background, and exhibits are hidden by splendid curtains that rise when you approach, which is a really funny level of pomp and circumstance when they majestically unveil an unidentified blob of polygon.

I laughed when I entered the weapon hall and the most archetypal video game sword imaginable was revealed. What else. Police bird, toilet, something I want to call a treeclops hick, I liked that a lot, along with various untextured models. Maybe the Modeleum could use a curator, but at the same time I like that anyone can add their art. A museum of the people, joyfully expanded without snobbery or judgment. Go put stuff in it! No one can stop you! It is chaos! Destroy society!

I hope to see more virtual architecture like this. Scrolling through online galleries is efficient but there’s nothing quite like a museum’s hallowed framing to make our brains take something seriously and give it a good squint. Doing some research, I’m finding out about quite a few online museums. Interesting to imagine a museum being destroyed by natural disaster or war, leaving only its digital presence to excavate.

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